The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Finding My Footing

Those of you who have been following me on Facebook, my blog or through emails know that due to an emergency in Tananarive's family, we've had to relocate from California to Atlanta, Georgia. Let's just say that's the last thing I expected to happen to me, shifting away from my family, friends, business connections, and the life I've grown quite comfortable with.

In short, I didn't want to go. Just being married to someone who needed to be In Georgia wouldn't have been enough to force me to move. A bi-coastal relationship would have been preferable on several counts. But there was another consideration: our son Jason. By my values, Jason needs two parents. I am one of them. That pretty much ends the discussion. I have choice, but I made that choice BEFORE we adopted my son. It was a sacred commitment to be there for him, to give him what my father did not give me, to be certain that he could stand on my shoulders, rather than in the hole I've been shoveling frantically to fill most of my life.

Can't back down from an obligation like that. And that has been the first foundational position. "I" made this decision. It was and is in alignment with my deepest values. How do I know? A simple test:

1) Does my youngest self agree with this? In other words, does it match with my childhood dreams and aspirations? Can I find a way to wiggle it in to what I needed and wanted as a boy? Absolutely. I wanted a father, someone to love and nurture and support me. There was no male figure. No father, no step-father, no uncles nearby. No older brothers. Wasn't athletic enough to attract coaches. All my teachers were women. Nothing, and the lack was achingly deep. I remember when my mother (briefly) dated a guy, and I was about six or seven at the time. He was sitting on the couch, and I was on a seat behind the couch, curled up like a little kitten, my heart aching. Wouldn't he reach back and tousle my hair? Tell me I was strong and smart? Play catch with me?

I remember crying myself to sleep. Was I so ugly, so stupid, so...defective somehow that no one wanted to be my daddy?

I will burn in hell before I put a child of mine through that pain. To serve Jason, to love and nurture him, is a gift to the boy I was.

Well, that's settled. That boy wanted a father, and didn't have one, but I could and did grow up to be the father he wanted and needed. You have two chances to experience the bond of parent to child: one when you are a child, and again when you are a parent. I'll take what I can get.

Then there is the second aspect:

2) Does my oldest self agree with this? When I see myself on my death bed, tubes up my nose and the doctors making long faces, what does that ancient think of my life? I watched my mother and father die. Mom didn't die well: she was filled with fear and regret. My father died well. While he had made mistakes in life, he had come to terms with them. He and I had forgiven each other, loved each other. And his ravaged image sits on my left shoulder, reminding me that life is a river that flows in a single direction: you don't really get do-overs. Be cautious.

To be on ones deathbed with conscious awareness of the curtain's descent is to step beyond ego and illusion. All striving is past. The fear and pain can grow so severe that one is force to do what the wise do far earlier: to cease identifying with the "me" or the body. My father said to my wise-fool (and I mean that in the very best and most appreciative way) Uncle Carver: "Carver, I have cancer."

"No," Carver replied. "Your body has cancer."

And that reply set my father free. He got the joke, in a way that those who have hope and ambition and clever egos can't understand.

To "Die before you die" is a Sufic expression for which I have great respect. It is a clue to the nature of that state called "Enlightenment." What is important to people in that state? It is not work, that's for sure. Not fame, or money, or fun toys like that. When death comes to the aware, it seems to have a purifying effect, illusion, doubt, fear, and ego burned away, and what remains is those values actually closest to the heart.

What does that elder say? To love my family. To live my deepest values. To take every step, every breath, as a gift to the world and to the divine and therefore to one's truest self.

My father's cancer-ravaged image, always with me, reminds me to tell the people I love that I love them EVERY DAY. To dance every day. To learn every day. To contribute every day. To live in the constant awareness that the curtain is descending. Play my part with full awareness, total joy, and take a freakin' bow. Enjoy the light, while it lasts.

And that older Steve knows that one of my father's greatest regrets in life was not being there for me. Well, then...that kinda settles that, doesn't it? Yeah. To live one's life is great, but to smooth the way for the next generation is the only way you can honor your teachers and mentors. It is the flow of life itself. The final step of the Hero's Journey that allows you to move on to the next level. The Student Becomes the Teacher. Then, of course, the Teacher becomes the Student once again. Ah...yes. I can "get" that. Feel it. Have lived it. There is truth there.

Now, then, the following is important: I have nothing more important to say than this.

Where the youngest you, and the oldest you, agree on the path...that is the road to walk. The youngest is your passion and hope and ambition and desire. The oldest is your wisdom, clarity and egoless grasp of reality. Do a Vin diagram. Where they overlap, where they agree...that is your path.

Do all you can to align them. Harlan Ellison said: "Success is to bring into existence, in adult terms, your childhood dreams." I love that.

And I have heard wisdom from elders in the Sufic, Native American, East African and martial arts communities say that wisdom is to live as if advised by your own self at the moment of death.

And the path between them may be hard...but while walking that path for a while I held my daughter Nicki's soft warm hand. And there was nothing more worthwhile I have ever done.

Jason's hand is as soft, and warm. He is mine to shepherd for just a little while.

Whenever I wonder what I should do, how I should be, what values I should hold dearest, to what I should exert my considerable energies, I ask myself a question: "how long will I be dead?"

Armed with that, I make my choice. Jason. That means I also choose his mother, Tananarive. That means that although this is not the life "me" wanted, it is the life "I" chose.

The rest is just details.

I have my footing.


Pagan Topologist said...

So true, Steve. Thank you for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this post, Steve. I have recently gone through a similar choice, but through an almost opposite experience.

My wife and I lived together for five years before I was able to get custody of my two sons. For five years, we had the best relationship I could imagine. Soon after the arrival of my kids, my relationship with my wife started to fall apart. She never embraced the role of step-mother, and I was in a position where I had to choose between my sons and the woman I loved. She ended up leaving a few months ago. It has been extremely painful for me, but your post reinforced that I made the right decision.

Marty S said...

Steve: You really nailed it with this post. About 11 years ago my son took a position in Illinois. My wife and I sold our house in New York and moved to Illinois to be near my son and grandson. They ended up only staying two years and then moving back to New York. We sold our house and their house and moved back to New York. The whole thing turned out to be very costly, but it was worth it to be part of my grandson's life. Family, particular youngsters is everything.

A. A. Scribe said...

Once again, thank you for sharing this. I wish you and your family the best.

AF1 said...

Hey Steve, Sijo Muhammad is in the Atlanta area is he not?

Just curious if you are making the best out of a tough situation by training with him.

Anonymous said...

For hero's journey see Kal Bashir's 510+ stage version over at ; it's brilliant.

Annora said...

Thanks for the article, very effective information.